Jacinda Ardern's White House meeting with US President Joe Biden hangs in balance

The Prime Minister's meeting with the President of the United States at the White House hangs in the balance because she caught COVID-19.

Jacinda Ardern has officially announced her travel itinerary for her trip to America and it includes stops in New York, Washington DC, Boston, San Francisco and Seattle.

But currently missing from the trip is a meeting with President Joe Biden at the Oval Office.

Newshub understands diplomats from both New Zealand and the United States are working around the clock to make the meeting happen but there are super strict COVID-19 restrictions to meet with the President.

Both countries are understood to be eager to make the meeting happen but time zone delays are complicating matters further.

The Oval Office chief-to-chief face-to-face had been pencilled in for Wednesday but it now appears a later date is being considered if COVID-19 protocols can be coordinated but it could require an extension to the trip. 

Ardern caught COVID-19 seven days before she was due to take off which threw a major spanner in the works.

And no one is allowed to touch foot in the United States sooner than 10 days after testing positive.

That saw Ardern left behind while officials, staff and the media delegation continued on the original Defence Force flight to Los Angeles on Saturday night.

"I think actually everyone takes it in their stride," Ardern said in a pre-trip interview.

"We're in a COVID world, with that comes protocols, with that comes contingencies, it's just the nature of travel in this era. And look, COVID curveballs come our way and that doesn't mean we don't crack on with the job."

Ardern said relationships with the United States were strong - even if she wasn't able to meet Biden.

"Ultimately what's important for NZ is our engagement and that engagement can be in person, it can be virtual, it can be on the phone - what's important are the relationships which we have. And the relationships that we have are really strong."

Most of the trip can continue as planned, she said.

"Where [testing positive] has created a bit more uncertainty - and that may have occurred anyway - is just in the Washington leg and that's just the COVID that world we live in."

Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford tested positive on Sunday, May 8 and as a household contact the Prime Minister went into isolation for a week.

She then tested positive for the virus herself almost a week later - forcing her to isolate for another seven days and miss the landmark Emissions Reduction Plan and then the Budget on Thursday. Ardern said they did try to limit the likelihood of her also catching COVID-19.

Jacinda Ardern.
Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Getty Images

"There's lots of families that have a similar experience to me, that it's not always avoidable, particularly when you've got a little person. We did do what we could because I certainly take very seriously the weight of my obligations as a leader to fulfil all of the obligations on me.

"So we did what we could within reason when you've got a little person in your house."

Ardern will chair Cabinet on Monday afternoon, then hold the post-Cabinet press conference before leaving for New York.

While there she will appear on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and meet the United Nations Secretary-General and tourism publication editors.

"We'll be taking a few other shameless opportunities," Ardern said.

She will then travel to Washington DC to meet senior members of the Senate.

In Boston, the Prime Minister will be the speaker at the 371st Harvard Commencement ceremony.

While a meeting at the White House would be one of Ardern's most important in her Prime Ministership, the timing of the trip hung around giving the Harvard commencement speech which she was invited to give a year ago.

Previous speakers include Oprah, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former United States Secretary of State George Marshall who announced the monumental post-World War II European Recovery Program - known as the Marshall Plan - in 1948.

"It's a really important opportunity for us to put the NZ perspective on the world stage."

She'll then travel to San Francisco and meet the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom. 

"California is a world leader in green technology. This technology will be essential to New Zealand's ability to meet our carbon emissions reduction targets. My meeting with Governor Newsom will be an opportunity to discuss ways in which we can work closely together on combating climate change."

The Prime Minister will also meet executives from Twitter, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services and executives from Microsoft. She plans to discuss skills development for New Zealanders in the tech industries, digital cooperation and to further Christchurch Call objectives.

Trade and Tourism

Like her trip to Singapore and Japan last month, a major focus of this trip for Ardern will be promoting New Zealand as a top tourist destination and convincing Americans to "spend their winter in our summer".

The United States is New Zealand's third-biggest tourism market, according to volume of arrivals in 2019.

"It is part of my job to reach into the world, to support our exporters and to support our tourism industry," said Ardern.

Before COVID-19, two-way trade between the States and New Zealand was worth more than $21 billion.

"I just don't think we can underestimate the importance of supporting our exporters as we relaunch and reconnect. We can't underestimate the importance of really supporting our tourism operators."

The US and the Pacific

As China grows its influence in the Pacific, Ardern said New Zealand had called for "the return" of the United States having an interest in the region.

"What we've called for is 'the return'. The United States has been a present force in our region for a number of years," said Ardern.

What we've seen in recent years though was a particular focus perhaps to other domestic matters or into other regions and slightly less of a presence in ours.

"We've asked for that return. But not just the return, but for a wider interest in the wider economic architecture. It is growing and developing in our region, in which the United States has been less present."

Ardern said the United States was looking to use a new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework to respond to calls for it to be more present in the region - rather than using trade relationships - and New Zealand had a responsibility to respond to that call.

But Ardern wanted to continue pushing for a trade agreement with the CPTPP.

"That's where we see an existing framework, that is a high-quality agreement, that sets a high standard, that we know is beneficial to our exporters.

"Now the IPEF as it's been floated in itself is not a traditional trade arrangement and so there is still room for us to keep pushing the CPTPP in particular."

When asked about whether strengthening ties to the United States meant New Zealand was looking to draw closer to its traditional Western allies, Ardern said it pointed to a need to maintain "broad and deep relationships".

"We live in a time where there's increasingly a perspective of a polarised approach where a country sits in one camp or another - New Zealand determines its relationships based on its values, it has strong relationships with the United States. I only see that as continuing to increase.

"But equally I see those relationships increasing in Europe as well and there you also see us seeking to increase our economic ties in the region too. I think we benefit from broad-based relationships based on our values."